Monday, August 20, 2007

"If he had had eyes, they would have been blue"

Blind boy's blue eyes are a special gift
6-year-old Scott finds his place in world he can't see

Gannett Tennessee

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Scott Jernigan has blue eyes, but they are artificial.

Scott was born without eyeballs.

Because he does not have optic nerves, he probably will never gaze across the rolling hills of Tennessee.

As a single mother, Amber Jernigan has struggled to provide for Scott since he was born six years ago.

Money may have been tight, but there was lots of love to go around.

With the support of her mother, Annie Taylor, Amber has taken Scott on countless visits to Nashville doctors.

An organ transplant was impossible because of the lack of optic nerves, so doctors advised Amber that Scott should initially use conformers — curved pieces of plastic about the size of a pinky fingernail. Each has a small spoke used to position the conformer properly.

Amber took Scott to Fairbanks Ocular Prosthetics in Nashville to have his conformers sized every two months.

"It was an all-day thing. After they made the measurements, then they made the conformers by hand and later in the afternoon will fit them for him," Amber said.

Scott's pediatrician, Dr. Ferdinand Espeleta, said the conformers were essential for proper bone growth around the eyebrow and sinus area of the face.

The conformers allowed Scott's long lashes to frame a circular structure beneath his eyelids and avoid a caved-in appearance.

When Scott was 2, he received a very special gift — artificial eyeballs.

"If he had had eyes, they would have been blue," Amber said.

Single mom struggles

It has been a struggle for both mother and son.

At 2 years old, Scott didn't talk much.

He rolled and scooted across the floor much longer than routinely expected for a toddler.

By the time he was 4, he was developmentally behind his peers, but Amber and her mother continued to do the best they could.

Amber didn't have a job so that she could stay home to care for Scott, and Annie worked extra hours in an effort to make ends meet.

Eventually, Scott began to learn how to compensate for his disability — and he is still learning.

Off to school every day

He is learning to be a good student with the help of teachers at the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville.

"He is a big boy now, getting on the school bus, taking his backpack," Amber said.

This year, Scott wakes up and gets dressed by himself before his bus arrives.

A bus arrives about 6 a.m. to pick up Scott. That bus brings him home about 4 p.m.

When Scott arrives home, Amber will play a memory game with him based on notes from his teacher.

"We talk about what he ate for lunch, what he did at recess and something special he learned that day," Amber said.

Then Scott will help himself to an after-school snack from the refrigerator. A shelf houses his favorite food items, always placed in the same locations.

"Scott has learned so much since he started school. He can feed himself, and he has neighbor kids who are friends to him," Annie Taylor said.

Scott takes the wheel

Amber and Scott and little brother Isaiah moved into a new apartment this year.

While the family was getting settled, Annie said the neighbor kids invited Scott outside to the sidewalk.

"They were sweet to him. I turned around and back a bit later to see Scott on one of their motorized cars — and he was in the driver's seat," Annie said.

It was a moment of gut-wrenching fear that lodges in the throat of any parent.

"I mean after all, he is blind," Annie said.

As she neared the boys, she could hear neighborhood child telling Scott: "Turn left, good, turn right, good."

"Those kids knew Scott was different, and it didn't matter to them — they were having fun, but needless to say Scott doesn't drive anymore," Annie Taylor said with a grin.

Scott will continue his life skills classes at the School for the Blind, and Amber says once he masters the everyday tasks, he will study Braille and eventually learn to read.

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